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On the Hill: Government Funding, Hospital Bills, Mental Health

This week Congress returns from August recess. The most critical legislative decisions remaining this year will revolve around passing federal government funding legislation to avoid an impending government shutdown on Oct. 1. Congress is likely to pass a continuing resolution (CR), but it remains unclear how and when negotiations will conclude.

Part of the ongoing debate surrounds potential methods to defund Planned Parenthood. With controversy surrounding the sale of fetal tissue in Planned Parenthood clinics, a conservative rebellion is brewing in the House. There, 28 Republicans have pledged to oppose any legislation that allows for continued funding for Planned Parenthood. However, decisions to fund Planned Parenthood may ultimately rest with states, as the majority of the organization’s funding comes from state Medicaid allocations.

Other health care priorities include a long-awaited package of hospital bills from the House Committee on Ways and Means. The package could include legislation impacting Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments, indirect medical education, and Medicare “crosswalk” legislation targeting inpatient and outpatient hospital codes.

Congressional leaders are also weighing a legislative fix for Medicare Part B premium increases that could impact as many as 16 million seniors beginning in January. The potential hike in premiums is the result of a combination of ambiguous rules under both Medicare and Social Security and was only discovered in late July.

The House passed its version of 21st Century Cures legislation before the August recess, however the Senate has yet to introduce a similar legislative package focused on medical innovations. Senate staffers spent the August recess working on various components of medical innovation, such as health information technology, medical devices, the health care workforce, and others, which would potentially be included in the package. Senate leaders hope to clear legislation through the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee before the end of the year.

Mental health legislation will be a priority this fall, with major proposals gaining steam in both the House and Senate. In the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) has promised to make mental health a priority. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a clinical psychologist, is the lead sponsor of the House’s proposal. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are lead sponsors on a Senate proposal that is pending consideration in the HELP Committee.

In shorter term committee business, this week the House Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing on the health care marketplace and the Affordable Care Act’s impact on competition. Specifically, the hearing will focus on hospital acquisitions and insurance carrier mergers. The Judiciary Committee also holds a hearing this week on the investigation of practices at Planned Parenthood.

The Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing on health coverage for small business employees and strengthening Medicaid and closing loopholes, which will specifically review five Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program bills.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Wiles is the manager of legislative affairs at America's Essential Hospitals.

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